We all saw and heard Mike Emrick speculate that Zdeno Chara was done with the Bruins as Boston’s captain lined up for post-series handshakes Tuesday night.
“It is likely the last time we’re going to see him in a Bruin uniform,” Emrick said, before going into a wonderful tribute about Chara the person.
Two days later, Chara opened his virtual breakup day Zoom with “Doc, keep my name out your mouth.”
Well, no, he obviously didn’t. Chara’s way too nice for that, but he did say something that contradicted Emrick’s suggestion that Chara would probably not be back in Boston.
“I feel strong physically and I’m positive and I believe that I can still play this game and contribute to the team and I want to stay in Boston,” Chara said. “I want to be a Boston Bruin, and I want to lead by example and share my experiences and my game skill with my teammates. That hasn’t changed. I’m committed, so we’ll see what’s going to happen next.”
What’s going to happen next should be pretty freaking easy. The Bruins should give Chara another contract identical to the one-year, $2 million pact on which he just played. There will be work to do with figuring out to how to deploy Chara at this point in his career, but bringing him back is a no-brainer.
Chara was the best defenseman in the NHL for a long time. Obviously he’s changed over the years. The offense is pretty much gone, and the bubble play showed he’s not as effective a defender. Once a player whose presence meant your team scored and theirs didn’t, Chara is unquestionably human. With Chara on the ice this postseason, the Bruins’ possession numbers, scoring chances and high-danger chances all favored the opposition more than they ever had in Chara’s postseason career.
Those numbers will probably continue to worsen if Chara remains a top-pairing player against other teams’ most skilled players. We’ll talk plenty during his Hall of Fame induction about how nobody did that better than him, but he doesn’t do it as well anymore.
The Bruins even took note of it, trying to get Chara away from Sebastian Aho in the fist round of the playoffs. Assuming he’s back, they’ll hopefully continue to manage his matchups.
Which is all to say this: The B’s need somebody to take his place. Had the Bruins found a top-pairing left-shot D over the past few years, this would be a moot point. Chara would be on the third pairing and killing penalties as one of the best X-factors in the league. Instead, a living legend has been asked to do more than he should probably be doing at this stage in his career.
It will be easier said than done to find a capable top-four guy to replace Chara, but that’s also where McAvoy comes in. The Bruins used to love playing under-experienced, probably not ready young defensemen on the top pair next to Chara for a couple of games because Chara was good enough that they’d get away with it.
Is McAvoy that good right now that you could try an Urho Vaakanainen in that big a role? My guess is no, but there’s lots of options. The Bruins could keep fluid pairings and mix up Chara and someone else early in the regular season over the course of the night depending on game situations. They could also trade for someone or get crazy in free agency. One wacky possibility: Torey Krug walks and the Bruins try for 30-year-old Alex Pietrangelo. I don’t want Krug to leave and the Bruins don’t have great success with signing Blues captains…
Speaking of captains, bite your freaking tongue about the “C” if Chara comes back. There isn’t a rule that you have to be the team’s best player to wear the “C.” Chara can absolutely remain captain as long as he remains a Bruin.
So sign Chara up for another year. It’s cheap and he’s still effective when used right. Plus, who just gets rid of a 43-year-old legend?